Jurisdiction of a Civil Court
As per Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code, the Courts shall have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature excepting suits of which their cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred. However, it is well settled that a civil court has an inherent power to decide its own jurisdiction. Where a contention as to jurisdiction is raised, it has to be determined in the light of words of the statute, scheme of provisions as well as the object and purpose of the enactment. Also, a presumption has to be made in favour of jurisdiction.
Every civil suit is cognizable unless it is barred. The wide nature of this section is explained by use of both positive and negative phraseology. What is meant by the section is explained by its words and expressions which cast an obligation on the court to exercise jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the civil courts in terms of Section 9 is a plenary one. It is also well settled that the ouster of civil court’s jurisdiction is not to be readily inferred. A person taking a plea contrary must establish the same. Every civil court must entertain only those suits which are of civil nature and have the characteristic of affecting one’s rights of civil nature.
The suit must be of a civil nature
The word “civil” has not been defined anywhere in the Code. However, according to the dictionary meaning, it pertains to private rights and remedies of a citizen. Historically, the two broad classifications were civil and criminal. Revenue, tax and company and so on were added to it later. There is thus no doubt about the width of the word ‘civil’. The Section would be available in every case where the dispute has the characteristic of affecting one’s rights which are not only civil but also of civil nature. As per article 133 of Indian Constitution, an appeal lies to civil court against any judgment, decree or order in a ‘civil proceeding’. This expression came up for construction in S.A.L. Narayan Row v. Ishwarlal Bhagwandas and the Constitution Bench held that proceedings for relief against infringement of civil right of a person is a civil proceeding.
The cognizance of such a suit should not have been expressly or impliedly barred
As per Section 9 of the Code, the normal rule is that civil courts have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature except those of which cognizance by them is either expressly or impliedly excluded. However, where a statute impliedly bars the jurisdiction a civil court and confers on a statutory authority, if such authority travels beyond the jurisdiction, the civil court has power to entertain the suit in respect thereto.
Exclusion of Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction means and includes any authority conferred by the law upon the court, tribunal or judge to decide any dispute between the parties or pass judgement or order. Exclusion of jurisdiction means prevention or prohibition to the court not to entertain or try any matter though the dispute is civil in nature. The exclusion of jurisdiction of a civil court is to be clear and not inferred. Also, even when the jurisdiction is either expressly or impliedly barred, it cannot be said that it is barred altogether. A court has jurisdiction to examine whether the provisions of the Act have been complied with, or whether the order is contrary to law, mala fide, ultra vires, arbitrary etc. In all these cases, the order cannot be said to be “under the Act” but is de hors the Act and the jurisdiction of a civil court is not ousted. The jurisdiction is excluded in two ways:
- Suits expressly barred – A suit is said to be expressly barred when it is barred by any enactment for the time being in force. In the development of adjudication of civil disputes, statutes provided alternative mode of resolution of civil disputes with less expensive but expeditious disposal.
A competent legislature may bar jurisdiction of civil courts with respect to a particular class of suits of a civil nature, only if by doing so, it keeps itself within the legislative field conferred on it and does not contravene any provision of the Constitution. If there is any doubt about the ousting of jurisdiction of a civil court, the court will assume the jurisdiction.
Suit based simply on Directive Principles of State Policy as incorporated in the Constitution of India, are not maintainable. Likewise, political questions relating to policies are not covered under the expression “civil rights”. However, a suit for correction in the date of birth in service record relates to civil right and is maintainable in Civil Court.
Certain Acts with express bar on Civil Court’s jurisdiction
These are some of the acts which expressly bar civil court’s jurisdiction:
- Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 – It is evident from Sections 17 and 18 of the Act that civil court’s jurisdiction is barred only in regard to applications by a bank or a financial institution for recovery of its debts. Also, after formation of the DRT, every suit and other proceedings pending before any civil court in which the claim is in excess of Rs. 20 lakhs shall stand transferred to DRT.
- Indian Electricity Act, 2003 – The scheme of the Act is complete in itself and thereby the jurisdiction of the civil court to take cognizance of the cases under the Act stood barred. However, it was laid down that where provisions of law are not complied with or the forum or tribunal does not act according to the fundamental principles of judicial procedure, the jurisdiction of civil court is clearly implied.
- Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 – Where the parties have submitted their disputes to the Arbitral Tribunal, the same disputes cannot be permitted to be agitated simultaneously in a civil suit and the bar laid down under Section 5 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and Section 9 of the Code comes into play.
- Copyright Act, 1957 – The Act creates a statutory right and remedy under Section 31(1)(b). It provides forum for enforcement of the remedy too. Where the Plaintiff has availed of that remedy and also seeks to avail same remedy from the civil court, the jurisdiction of the Civil Court would be barred.
- Payment of Wages Act, 1936 – A civil court has no jurisdiction to entertain a suit by an employee against his employer for recovery of wages, after the expiry of the period of limitation prescribed by Section 15(2) of the Act for making an application to the Authority appointed under the Act, or after the Authority has refused to condone the delay in making such an application.
- Consumer Protection Act, 1986 – It was held in CCI Chambers Coop. HSG. Society Ltd. v. Development Credit Bank Ltd. that jurisdiction of consumer dispute redressal forum cannot be relegated to civil court on the ground that the case involves detailed investigation. Hence, jurisdiction cannot be assumed merely because questions of fact and law need to be decided, especially in view of exclusive jurisdiction under the Act.
- Essential Commodities Act, 1955 – Section 6E of the Act, 1955, specifically bars the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.
- Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 – Section 175 of the Act bars the jurisdiction of the civil courts in respect of claims for compensation on account of motor accident if the claims Tribunal is constituted in the area. The jurisdiction of the State Government is exclusive in character and it is not open to civil courts to issue an order of injunction restraining the hearing authority from proceeding with the hearing of the case.
- Constitution of India 1950 – In view of Article 329, civil courts have no power to entertain a suit which challenges the elections to Parliament or the State Assemblies.
There are also other acts that expressly bar the civil court’s jurisdiction like Canon Law, Delhi School Education Act, Public Premises Act, Maharashtra Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats and Industrial Townships Act, Land Acquisition Act, Displaced Persons Act, Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, Bombay Rents Act, Tripura Public Demand Recovery Act, Enemy Property Act and so on.
- Suits impliedly barred – A suit is said to be impliedly barred when it is barred by general principles of law. Where, both right and remedy having been created uno flatu then, even if there is no express provision excluding the jurisdiction of civil courts, its jurisdiction stands impliedly barred. It is also established that where an Act creates an obligation, and enforces its performance in a specified manner, that performance cannot be enforced in any other manner. Similarly, certain civil matters are barred from civil courts on the principles of public policy and public weal”.
Certain Acts with express bar on Civil Court’s jurisdiction
- Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 – In the matters of industrial disputes, jurisdiction of civil court is barred only in respect of those rights/ obligations which are created under this Act or its sister enactments.
- Other Acts – In Haryana, jurisdiction of civil court is barred by necessary intendment of law in the field covered specifically and squarely by the provisions of the Haryana Urban (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1973. In another case, it was held that where the parties have lawfully agreed to refer their disputes to arbitrator, civil court’s jurisdiction is barred to that extent.
Jurisdiction not barred
All suits of civil nature which are neither expressly nor impliedly barred by any law are maintainable in the civil courts. Where the jurisdiction of Civil Court is barred by any specific legislation but the ‘issue’ is not covered under the said legislation, then a suit in civil court would be maintainable. In cases where alternative remedies are available, civil courts’ jurisdiction as well as jurisdiction of such alternative fora are not barred. Any state revenue legislation does not bar jurisdiction of civil court to adjudicate over dispute relating to title of parties. Civil courts can entertain suits for which no remedy lies under the specific legislation.
General Principles of Exclusion of Jurisdiction
From various decisions of the Supreme Court, the following general principles relating to jurisdiction of a civil court emerge:
- Civil court has jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature unless their cognizance is barred either expressly or impliedly.
- Consent can neither confer nor take away jurisdiction of a court.
- A decree passed by a court without jurisdiction is a nullity and the validity thereof can be challenged at any stage of the proceedings.
- There is a distinction between want of jurisdiction and irregular exercise thereof.
- Every court has inherent power to decide the question of its own jurisdiction.
- Jurisdiction of a court depends upon the averments made in a plaint and not upon the defense in a written statement.
- For deciding jurisdiction of a court, substance of a matter and not its form is important.
- Every presumption should be made in favour of jurisdiction of a civil court.
- A statute ousting jurisdiction of a court must be strictly construed.
- Burden of proof of exclusion of jurisdiction of a court is on the party who asserts it.
- Even where jurisdiction of a civil court is barred, it can still decide whether the provisions of an act have been complied with or whether an order was passed de hors the provisions of law.
It can be concluded that section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code primarily deals with the question of civil court’s jurisdiction to entertain a cause. It lays down that civil court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit of civil nature except when its cognizance is expressly barred or barred by necessary implication. Civil court has jurisdiction to decide the question of its jurisdiction although as a result of the enquiry it may eventually turn out that it has no jurisdiction over the matter. Civil court has jurisdiction to examine whether tribunal or quasi – judicial bodies or statutory authority acted within their jurisdiction. Also, if there arises a question pertaining to jurisdiction of a civil court in entertaining a matter, every presumption has to be made in favour of the jurisdiction of a civil court unless the relevant statute expressly provides to that effect. The burden of proof lays on the party who seeks to oust the jurisdiction of a civil court. Where such a contention is raised, it has to be determined in the light of words of the statute, scheme of provisions as well as the object and purpose of the enactment.
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